Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Yellow boxfish - Cute little swimming cubes

Juvenile Yellow Boxfish
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Tetraodontiformes
Family: Ostraciidae
Genus: Ostracion
Species: Ostracion cubicus
Conservation Status: Not assessed, not believed to be threatened
Common Name: Yellow boxfish, Cubicus Boxfish, Polka-dot Boxfish

Today's post is about a fish that can only be described as astonishingly cute. It's commonly known as the Yellow boxfish and can be found in reefs throughout the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean as well as the south eastern Atlantic Ocean, at depths of 1 to 280 m (3-920 feet), as shown in the map below.

Map showing the distribution of the yellow box fish (Ostracion cubicus) Distribution
 Yellow boxfish Distribution
(click to enlarge)

As suggested by its name, the species has a box-shaped body. Juveniles have a bright yellow color with black spots. However, as they grow their body becomes more elongated, the spots decrease in number and the bright yellow becomes a dirty, mustard like color. Individuals that have reached the maximum length of 45 cm (18 in.) have a blue metallic coloring.

Their bright yellow color and spots of  O. cubicus serve as a warning (Aposematism) to potential predators that the species is poisonous if consumed. When in danger or under stress, they excrete poisonous proteins from their skin that may be lethal to any fish swimming in the surrounding waters.

Juveniles are super cute..

Image showing the coloration of an adult box fish
Adults.. not that much !

They are slow swimmers and can be easily caught by hand. They tend to stay in the same spot for hours, usually moving only in case of emergency or in search for food. 

They are solitary animals, inhabiting coral and rocky reefs, at depths of 1 m to 40 m. They prefer deeper coastal slopes, lagoons and any other area with crevices and ledges that they can use for shelter. Males are territorial, each protecting a small area along with the residing females

They mainly feed on algae, complemented by other smaller fish., crustaceans, mollusks, sand dwelling polychaetes, worms and sponges

Breeding occurs in harems consisting of one male and 2-4 females, during the spring when the ocean waters have warmed up.

Young Ostracion cubicus

Conservation Status
The species has not been officially evaluated by the IUCN but is not believed to be threatened as there are many, healthy populations all over the world. It has no known natural threats, as most reef predators avoid it due to being poisonous.

They are sometimes dried out and sold to souvenir shops, however they are not highly sought and human activity has only a slight impact on their numbers.

As pets
It is possible to have one as a pet (in an aquarium), however they are very, very difficult to keep alive. They are recommended only for "experts" of the sport, as they have many special requirements, not to mention that if stressed they have the potential to wipe out all life in your tank.

Yellow boxfish in a saltwater tank

Interesting Facts
-In 2006, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its Bionic concept car, which was inspired by the shape of the yellow boxfish. According to Mercedes-Benz, "the boxfish's face is small in proportion to its overall length, and its streamlined surfaces encourage air to move over it without creating the turbulence that robs aerodynamic efficiency."
The Longhorn Cowfish (Lactoria cornutawhich) is a similarly looking fish, of the same family, that comes by the same common name. L. cornuta is easily recognizable by its long horns that protrude from the front of its head, reminiscing those of a cow or bull. Below is a video that I shot in the London Zoo Aquarium, showing a Longhorn Cowfish.

And here's a video from the Amsterdam's Artis Aquarium, showing both of these two cuties:

Selected References & Further Reading
- Kalmanzon, E., Zlotkin, E., & Aknin-Herrmann, R. (1999). Protein-Surfactant interactions in the defensive skin secretion of the Red Sea trunkfish Ostracion cubicus Marine Biology, 135 (1), 141-146 DOI: 10.1007/s002270050611
- Kalmanzon, E., & Zlotkin, E. (2000). An ichthyotoxic protein in the defensive skin secretion of the Red Sea trunkfish Ostracion cubicus Marine Biology, 136 (3), 471-476 DOI: 10.1007/s002270050706
- Computer Generated Native Distribution Map for Ostracion cubicus (Yellow boxfish)
(modelled future range map based on IPCC A2 emissions scenario). www.aquamaps.org, version of Aug. 2013. Web. Accessed 13 May. 2014. 
-  Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2006). "Ostracion cubicus" in FishBase. November 2006 version.

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